Thursday, 30 June 2011


Reflections: Listening

"Everyone deserves a good listening to." (Anon)

I love that quote, though I have been unable to find the author - do let me know if you have a reference or source.

Listening: everyone with hearing uses their ears all the time. We hear the daily hub-bub: TV and radio, music from all around, traffic, birdsong, planes, machinery, water, rain, wind, thunder, people talking, walking, shouting, snoring. We also have the internal hub-bub of our own thoughts continually chattering inside our heads.

Narrowing that down to communication with people around us: how much do we really hear? How often do we offer a "good listening to?"

How do we know when this happens? For me there is a quality of attention that gives me the feeling that I have not only been listened to but also I have been heard. Heard in the sense of acknowledging and witnessing - and seeing (even if not in the literal sense, this can be on the phone) - me, just as I am.

Recently I have had the pleasure and privilege of being on the receiving end of good listening. One example was with 
Fiona Miller, a life coach based in Christchurch, New Zealand, who is interviewing people in her research on unexpected events that are a catalyst for change. I believe she was prompted by the serious earthquakes that have resulted in huge upheavals (literal and metaphorical) for thousands of people. She has widened out to considering any catalyst for change and I responded to an email from a mutual connection.

We spent over an hour  on Skype one evening (or morning for Fiona), discussing a wide range of subjects and afterwards I reflected on how enriching it felt for me to be able to review events in my life with a true listener. We covered my experience of cancer, redundancy, and various other changes in my life - which were all catalysts for change in some sense. Fiona can be contacted via her website if you would like to contribute to her research.

Other "good listening to" experiences at various times  for me have been the coaching conversations I have had with a number of different people over the years since I first came across life coaching in around 2000. Part of training as a coach - and for various other occupations such as counselling or teaching - is about "active listening". This is when you are truly listening to the other person, listening with all your senses.

When you first experience it as the listened-to person, it can be quite unsettling, alarming even. It can be such an unsual thing to have someone's full and undivided attention. Good listening is about really hearing the other person. Being with them but not necessarily sharing their experience. Hearing them but not immediately trying to "fix" them. "Fixing" suggests there is something wrong, when people may just need to express doubts and fears and find their own answers through the articulation of them to a true listener.

Articulating your thoughts, being heard, and truly hearing yourself, can give birth to deep insights and inspiration. So often I have felt, and heard others say, "I have just said what I needed to know!"

For you: some suggestions for your journal or meditation reflections:

  • Who are your "listeners"?
  • Who would welcome a "good listening to" from you?
  • If you were to listen to your own inner wisdom what would it tell you?
  • Experiment with writing a letter to yourself, then read and really listen to what you are saying.
This is such a big and significant topic I will be reflecting more and writing again, and would love to hear your comments or reflections.

Here is another quote to close with:

"The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention."
Thich Nhat Hanh